Thanks to the wonderful French TV show Dim Dam Dom shown on the equally wonderful Melody TV http://www.melody.tv/, I recently discovered a new French pop hero: Évariste. His appearance on the 12 November 1967 episode, performing a song called Wo i nee, is something that has to be seen to be believed; crazy dancing, crazy hair (long on one side and short on the other – apparently in an attempt to combine both the mod and the rocker look in one haircut: the Mocker hairdo), and a crazy song that just cannot be categorised – I can’t describe it other than as “experimental”. Absolutely amazing and a totally unexpected find. How can something so fabulous exist and so few people know about it?
What’s not to like, eh? Naturally I started to research this Évariste character and found out that he had only released 2 EPs and 1 single in the late 60s, all of which have now been made available on a compilation album called Do You Know The Beast?
I can’t recommend the album more – every track is as quirky and amazing as Wo i nee. And to make it even more appealing, Michel Colombier was responsible for the musical arrrangements. It’s a limited edition release, so if you think it sounds like your cup of tea grab it while you can. Since buying the album I have also discovered another single, released in Canada, of two other tracks Si les étoiles pouvaient parler / Je Ne Pense Qu’a Ca, from a theatrical show called Je ne veux pas mourir idiot – Si les étoiles pouvaient parler is particularly lovely.
And, the reason for this article, I also found a press photo from an article in an American newspaper:
I love the granddad slippers. On the back of the photograph is a partial press cutting, showing that there was an English language article about Évariste. I have since sought out the article and whilst I can’t find a copy of the paper to purchase I managed to see a copy online and squinted long enough and hard enough at it to be able to make out the text, here it is below (excuse any errors, it was hard work):
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SINGING PHYSICIST – Evariste a 24 year old graduate student at Princeton University sits atop a statue of former Dean Andrew West and relaxes from his research into the mysteries of the atom by composing what he calls “mock ‘n’ roll” songs. His records have made him a top singing star in his native France.
NEW RECORDING STAR
Young Physicist Sings Of Einstein Calculus By WILLIAM J CROMIE
PRINCETON N J – The young physicist stroked his guitar and began to sing what he calls “mock ‘n’ roll” songs – ballads of calculus and Einstein quark bombs and the demographic consequences of power failures.
Perched atop the statue of a former Princeton University dean he looked like a prank happy college freshman. In his own eyes however 24 year old Evariste sees himself as a serious theoretical physicist – while American and French record companies consider him a sensational new singing star.
The young graduate has already become a top recording name in France and four or five companies in this country are preparing to release his records in English next month.
Real Name Is Secret
Evariste keeps his real name a secret lest his singing career complicate his other life as a physicist. “I chose the stage name Evariste in honor of a French mathematician who died in a duel at the age of 21,” he explains.
A native of Lyon France, Evariste started composing as a pastime at the age of 16. On a Paris vacation last year some friends in the record business proposed an audition.
“I don’t think anyone was very serious at first,” he says, “but after I sang for an hour they offered me a five year contract. I was surprised and happy.”
“But I will not let this interfere with my scientific career, I am a physicist above all.”
Wearing a Princeton shirt Evariste appeared on French television last February and sang the song most responsible for his success, “Do You Know the Beast Who Invented Integral Calculus?” It starts off as a soft ballad about an old scientific controversy, whether it was Isaac Newton or Gottfried Leibniz who invented calculus. The composition then proceeds to a frantic rock and roll tempo as the singer screams and wails at the futility of trying to solve the problem.
Before returning to France at the end of the school year to cut another record, Evariste sang and philosophized for a small audience in his dormitory. “For me composing a song involves the same kind of excitement as finding a new idea in physics,” he said. “They are both creations and I am always trying to create. It is the thing that makes me most happy.”
What was he doing at Princeton? “Taking some courses, following seminars, but mainly doing theoretical research in particle physics,” he replied. “I am working to understand the nature of the atom.”
“Dans Les Nuages”
He says his singing does not interfere with this goal. “When I am resting from one, I do the other,” he says. “When I’m tired of physics, I compose a song. It takes no more time than going to the movies.”
Evariste had no formal musical training and composes with the aid of a guitar and tape recorder. The jacket of his first record bears a famous Einstein equation and shows Evariste peering intently at some test tubes. Asked what kind of an experiment he was performing, Evariste confessed, “They needed some scientific equipment for the picture and he only thing available was a urinalysis set-up.”
A French magazine describes him as “Dans Les Nuages” (in the clouds), and he impresses strangers as a candid, naive young man who is having a lot of fun out of life.
Does Evariste hope to influence the world’s youth with mock and roll? “If I wanted to take myself seriously, which I don’t, there would be a message in my songs,” he says.
With that statement, he put down a copy of the scientific paper he had written “On the Masses of Non-Strange Pseudoscalar Mesons and the Generalized Klein-Gordon Equation”, picked up his guitar and began singing:
“Oh Geiger counter where are you tonight? I see you in my dreams What am I going to do with all the electron beams? Oh how I miss my Geiger counter tonight.”
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Yes, just when you think Évariste could not be more unusual, you discover he’s a physicist. If you’d like to read Évariste’s scientific paper “On the Masses of Non-Strange Pseudoscalar Mesons and the Generalized Klein-Gordon Equation”, you can find it here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/121342546wwv1222/
Évariste’s alter ego, physicist Joël Sternheimer, continues his research today into the vibratory frequency of elementary particles and the “music of the molecules”. But that’s yet another story and maybe I’ll go into that a bit more later. In any case I’ll definitely be writing more about this unique recording artist on here very soon.